Wellington International Airport (ICAO: NZWN, IATA: WLG) is the gateway to the capital of New Zealand. It has a reputation for its howling winds giving aircraft a rough ride on their way in and out. WLG is the 3rd busiest airport in New Zealand behind Christchurch (NZCH) and Auckland (NZAA), but is considered the best in the country photography-wise due to the variety of locations around the airport perimeter. Airport Security is quite lenient, as well. A majority of the traffic is domestic with a couple of international flights across the Tasman to Australia, and a wide-bodied aircraft four times a week. Hills surround the airport, giving some fantastic locations to watch aircraft. Best of all, a car isn’t necessary as you can walk between all of the spots.
Spot 1: Steep Hill behind freight sheds and long-term car park
Located on Stewart Duff Drive opposite the road up to the water treatment plant is a steep hill which you have to be careful to get to the top of. This spot gives fantastic views of RWY 34 arrivals and aircraft taxiing for takeoff. When RWY 16 is in use, it can give some great departure shots, along with a nice overview of the domestic terminal, as well. On a clear day, you may even be able to see the South Island! This spot is good year-round, and is best from early to mid morning. This spot will be backlit in the afternoon. This spot is not near much of anything, so make sure to bring anything you need, and you can always walk 5 minutes to the terminal. A 70-300mm lens will be sufficient for this location.
Coordinates: -41.333865 174.8105
Spot 2: Wexford Road Lookout (and hill behind)
This is probably the most popular location at the airport. From here, you will be able to get RWY 16 arrivals, as well as great views down the main taxiway and runway, along with approaching aircraft. A 70-300mm lens will be sufficient here, but a wide angle lens is recommended if you want images of taxiing narrowbody aircraft like the B737 and A320. You can also snag RWY 34 departures and arrivals if the aircraft roll down the runway enough, which is mostly narrowbody aircraft as well. This spot is best from sunrise to midday, as in the afternoon, it will be backlit. To get a slightly different angle, which I prefer, you can also go up the hill located behind this spot behind the building. A longer lens will be required if you would like rotation shots. If you are driving here, you are able to park your car on a bit of road on the left at the end of the road, up the hill.
Coordinates: -41.318056 174.809694 For the hill slightly behind: -41.317605 174.810992
Spot 3: Bridge Street
This spot is one of the closest spots to the runway, and is great from midday until sunset. It is great for RWY 16 approaches, touchdowns, and departures, as well as RWY 34 arrivals as most B737, A320, and B777 aircraft will turn off at the end of the runway. It is located on Bridge St, and to get there you need to head to a small grassy area at the north end of the street, and head to the south side of the grassy patch where you can find a hill that elevates you a few meters off the ground. I, personally, like to stand right at the edge of the hill looking towards the runway. Unfortunately, there is a large bush in the way of approaching aircraft, so I will usually go further along the ledge to the fence. The quadruple-weekly Singapore Airlines flight will land right in front of you, and this is quite the sight!
Coordinates: -41.320502 174.806073
Spot 4: The Subway
This spot is good for RWY 34 departures, particularly smaller aircraft. Unfortunately, most larger aircraft departures will be obstructed by trees or the fence for side shots, although they will appear again further down the runway. To get down to this spot, head down Courts St. until you get to the Subway, which leads underneath the runway. There will be a grassy area with a bench, and this is when you know you’ve found the spot. You can also look down at the western apron where GA parks, as well as the Execujet hangar which houses a majority of the private jet movements here. There is also a military area here, where occasionally RNZAF 757’s or C130’s park, as well as government aircraft as big as the B767. A 70-300mm lens is sufficient here. This spot is best from midday to sunset.
Coordinates: -41.324522 174.805678
Spot 5: Tirangi Road
This is a nice spot for RWY 16 arrivals, and aircraft taxiing onto RWY 16 for departure. To get here, walk up Tirangi Rd. from either end until you get to the top of the ramp down to the other end of the road. This spot is amazing from midday until sunset, and I wouldn’t recommend this spot in the summer as there is a lot of heat haze in the middle of the day. It is great from late afternoon to sunset. A 70-300mm lens is sufficient here.
Coordinates: -41.319855 174.805678
Spot 6: WWII Hill Fortress
This spot is further from any of the spots I’ve previously mentioned, but it gives you a quite unique vantage point. To get to this spot, head down Ahuriri St. until you get to the end of the road. There is then a fence with a sign saying “Airways NZ Palmer Head Navigation Site.” You are allowed to go on the site, but do not bring your vehicle. Use the door opening to enter the area, and follow the concrete driveway about 200 meters until it separates, and then go to the barracks on the right. Right outside, you can stand on the cliff edge. This spot is good for RWY 34 arrivals, and is great for photos from sunrise to midday. You need at least a 200mm lens to get decent shots of mainline aircraft, and a 300mm+ is required for smaller aircraft.
Coordinates: -41.339078 174.812712
Spot 7: Moa Point Road
This road runs parallel to with the runway and is good for both RWY 34 arrivals and RWY 16 departures. This spot is best from midday until sunset. Theoretically, anywhere along the side of the road is fine, and I recommend standing on some of the taller rocks to get a better view. There can be quite a heap of heat haze in the summer, as well. A 70-300mm lens is sufficient for this spot.
Coordinates: -41.330879 174.80532
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